BALTIMORE — Doctors gathered Tuesday to celebrate what they called the most extensive facial transplant surgery to date.
Face recipient Richard Norris, 37, of Hillsville, Va., lost parts of his face in a gun accident in 1997. Living life without his lips and nose, Norris’s mouth had limited movement, and he wore a mask wherever he went.
He met with Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in 2005 to discuss reconstructive options. Seven years later, their discussions and research were made a reality upon the completion of his surgery.
The 36-hour face transplant surgery was a part of a 72-hour marathon transplant surgery.
Dr. Rodriguez and his team were able to accomplish the 36-hour full facial transplant in one run. Norris will leave the hospital with a new face, nose, teeth, tongue, and jaws, making this surgery groundbreaking and historical, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
The 36-hour face transplant, a vascularized composite allograft (VCA), took place in the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, a different location than usual.
“Because we have an infrastructure built around multi-disciplinary care, it made sense for the facial transplant program to be housed at the Shock Trauma Center in the University of Maryland Medical Center,” said Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, physician-in-chief at the Shock Trauma Center.
“I have never seen something so remarkable,” Dr. Scalea said.
The surgery was funded, along with research, by a grant from the Office of Naval Research. The research was done primarily to aid in the recovery of injured military veterans.
The face transplant team, led by Dr. Rodriguez, collaborated with the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, a non-profit organ and tissue donation program. Norris was transported back and forth with the help of Angel Flight, a Virginia-based nonprofit that flies patients to specialized medical care.
Four other patients received organs from the anonymous donor.